Dear Socially Stephanie,
I'm almost done with my debut novel, and will be shopping it around soon.
But I've heard that agents and publishers will look much more favorably upon writers if they come with a social media platform and "built-in" readers already attached. I've tweeted a few jokes here and there, and of course I have a personal Facebook page, but unfortunately, that's about it.
How can I make myself more attractive to publishers by developing a huge following on social media if I don't even have my first novel out yet?
Bookless and Broke in Brooklyn
Ps. Naturally, being a writer, I have zero funds to hire web designers, social media consultants, etc.
Dear Bookless and Broke,
Congratulations! Writing a book is quite the feat. And you're smart to be thinking ahead: having a following is a sign to publishers that the book will have customers, so it'll make you more attractive to literary agents for sure.
But how will you build that following? Luckily for you, the social web is a vast universe filled with people who share your interests and tastes. Now it is a matter of finding them, connecting with them, and making them think you are the next Candace Bushnell, Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling.
There are a lot of authors out there who know how to develop huge social media followings because of their engagement in the online world. My first piece of advice, which you will often hear me say, is to start blogging! Now! Create engaging content that showcases your talent, wit, and authority as a good writer. Blog about your writing habits and how you get ideas; share exciting excerpts from your book, write tidbits about other authors you admire, include book reviews of novels similar to your own (or just any book you enjoyed). Not only will this help build your following on your blog (publishing gold!), it will also give you a lot of great content to share on your social channels.
Take this one step further by guest blogging for more established blogs that already have a large following. Is your book chick lit, horror, fantasy, young adult? Whatever you're writing, there are communities out there for you; find them and engage. Once you've got some online bona fides, try pitching articles to online outlets like TheRumpus and TheMillions, which are like catnip for the writing and publishing community. Writing for publications that have a large and targeted audience can help establish your online presence very effectively.
Now get your Twitter game on, because Twitter is your friend. Of course, share your own articles, posts, reviews and news -- but also post opinions about great articles, short stories in different magazines, and books you are reading. Engage in conversations with people who are also talking about your genre, and make friends. Be funny, smart, and authentic. (If you are feeling a bit shy about reaching out on social media, here is a primer.)
Lastly, network your little booty off! Join writing groups on Meetup.com, attend book signings and find writers' conferences to attend, and sign up for GoodReads.com. GoodReads is a fabulous social site dedicated to book-lovers. You can create your own profile on this network and search for authors who are similar to yourself and connect with their followers and fans, and collect your own as well. No, you're not poaching -- in fact, you're doing readers a favor, because there's nothing a book-lover appreciates more than a good recommendation!
Now in the midst of all of this, start working on an official Facebook Fan Page. You could wait until your book is sold, but I think there is no harm in starting it now so you won't be caught flat-footed later. Use your own name (or pen name) as the name for your Fan Page, not your book, since the title of your book might change a few times and since you will probably write more books in the future.
No matter what, don't get discouraged. Let your personality and creativity shine. Building a following takes time and effort, but it will pay off. And remember, quality is just as important as quantity. Literary agent Kristina Holmes got it right when she advised, "When it comes to [a social] platform, it's my feeling that 'the numbers' are only one aspect of the conversation. The depth and quality of connection the author is making with their audience is often as important as the size of their audience ... Understanding the relevance of your work to your readers and learning how to communicate that understanding is critical."
I can't wait to see your name plastered all over Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I'll be the first in line at your book signing.
Do you have a question for Socially Stephanie?
Please email [email protected] and let Stephanie help you solve your social quandaries, queries, and boondoggles. (Questions may be edited for length and clarity.)
Illustration by Jesse Wells